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Planning for Summertime Pet Safety Starting with Memorial Day

Photo of Happy Dogs Ready for a Fun Memorial Day Weekend

As part of my work with Flexcin, I've created a series of tips to keep your pet safe during the many potential hazards associated with summer.  See my Memorial Day specific You Tube video at the end of this article.

In the first part of FlexPet’s Summertime Pet Safety Series (see The Dog Days of Summer), we explored the environmental and climate related concerns associated with warmer weather. In this next part of the series we will cover the health concerns surrounding food focused celebrations that are synonymous with summertime fun.

Who doesn't love a barbecue to celebrate Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, or any given Sunday afternoon? Although cookouts are quite enjoyable for people, they can be dangerous for pets.

Grills top my list for potential backyard dangers due to the high likelihood that thermal burns will occur upon contact with your pet’s skin or fur. Only grill from a height elevated above that which your pet can easily reach. Hibachi style grills placed on the ground or in other areas of easy access put your pet in the direct line of fire.

Depending on the type and duration of exposure, a pet may suffer first, second, or third degree burns.

First-degree burns

  • Affect the fur and top layer of skin
  • Cause pain at the affected site
  • Appear red (erythema) with warmth to the touch

Second-degree burns

  • Affect the fur and the top to deeper layers of skin
  • Cause pain at the affected site
  • Appear pale to tan and warm or cool to the touch (due to changes in blood flow)

Third-degree burns

  • Affect and involve loss of fur and multiple layers of skin
  • Cause decreased pain at the affected site (due to severe tissue and nerve damage)
  • Appear extremely red, charred (black) or tan to white (due to lack of blood flow)
  • Compromise the health of other organs besides the skin, including the heart/lungs, digestive tract, and immune system (infection, inflammation)

The delectable aroma of barbecued foods creates serious instinctual attraction for curious canine noses and mouths seeking a taste. Besides the heat and fire from the grill, the freshly cooked, hot-off-the-grill foods can also cause skin or oral (tongue, gums) burns if consumed.

With suspected or known confirmations of burns, immediately pursue treatment through a veterinarian.

Foods left out for preparation or serving are also an easy target for pets. Keep food elevated to a height beyond your pet’s reach. Using seal-able containers can help to keep your dog from ‘counter surfing’ and gorging on your buffet.

Consumption of food and beverages typically found at barbecues can cause serious digestive issues as well as other associated problems. Meats, bones, fat (cheese, animal skin, desserts, nuts, etc), fruit (grapes, raisins, etc), vegetables (onion, chives, etc), salt, sugar, spices, preservatives, alcohol, and other ingredients all harbor potential health and toxicity risks.

Digestive tract clinical signs include vomiting, diarrhea, deceased appetite, lethargy, and more. Metabolic diseases like pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), liver or kidney damage, electrolyte imbalances, anemia, and other problems can also occur.

Your pet’s seemingly harmless taste or large portion consumption can create serious health issues requiring veterinary care. Diagnostics (blood, urine, and fecal tests, X-rays, ultrasound, etc), in-hospital or outpatient treatment (fluid therapy, antacid or anti-nausea medications, etc) are often required to ensure the recovery of a pet guilty of dietary indiscretion (inappropriate consumption of food or environmental objects).

Are you financially prepared to pursue veterinary care if your pet suffers barbecue-associated digestion issues? Especially in times of financial hardship, it’s best to avoid the need for costly treatment by focusing on prevention. As barbecues often involve the presence of guests, make sure everyone is well informed of your pet safety rules.

Additionally, potentially toxic gifts (flowers, plants, foods, etc) can enter your home upon guests’ arrival. Purses, backpacks, and other bags can harbor toxins like candy (mints and gum, especially the sugar-free kind containing Xylitol), prescription or over the counter drugs, and other miscellaneous substances. Gifts and guests’ belongings should also be kept out of reach of household pets.

With any concerns for toxic exposure, contact ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) andPet Poison Helpline (PPH) for the best guidance in managing your pet’s individual case.


Thank you for joining us for the second part of FlexPet’s Summertime Pet Safety Series. I hope you and your pets have many safe and festive occasions this summer.

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Copyright of this article (2012) is owned by Dr Patrick Mahaney, Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. Republishing any portion of this article must first be authorized by Dr Patrick Mahaney. Requests for republishing must be approved by Dr Patrick Mahaney and received in written format.

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